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Aspirin for pneumonia: school system needs major fix Another voice column

June 12

I haven’t said much about public schools lately. I feel it does no good to talk to the non-receptive. The system, through its administration and board, made it apparent that they didn’t want to hear what I have to say. They are the professional educators with college degrees and we lowly public-educated taxpayers don’t know anything about public education.

I know that on a worldwide basis, American public education has one of the highest costs per student per year, with one of the shortest school years, and has math and science scores below average for industrialized nations. WE set very low standards, if any at all. High school diplomas are given for “seat” time, not academic achievement in public schools.

On average, we don’t ask, expect or get much from our students. After all, you wouldn’t want to damage the little darlings’ egos by making them do it over until they get it right. Pass them, pat them on the back, and put them on some athletic team so they feel good about themselves. Give them dreams. Maybe they can be professional athletes. How about giving them realistic dreams? I don’t know any professional athletes from Hood River. There may be some, but you’re apt to work at Wal-Mart, and even that could require further education.

According to a recent news release from Media Communications, Division of University Relations, Michigan State University: “Recent TIMSS reports have indicated that U.S. eighth-graders do not fare well in international comparisons in either mathematics or science. Results of those studies have let researchers to ask: are there states or local districts where this is not the case?

Not yet, says MSU Distinguished Professor William Schmid, executive director of the TIMSS National Research Center, who says there are no “world class” performances among American participating schools. High school scores are worse. Access the TIMSS reports online yourself. No need to take my word for it.

I believe we should teach reading, writing and arithmetic and research, the skills needed to earn a living or go on to further education. According to what I have read, Japan sends their kids to school 240 days a year. That is 50 days a year more than schools in the U.S.A. — times 12 years of school that is 600 days, or over three school years of American education. Is it any wonder that Japan’s students do better than ours on international tests? Japan spends about one third less per student per year than the U.S.

The administrators and board members I have spoken with won’t or can’t see that the American school system is dysfunctional. They want more money. Their view is to prescribe aspirin for pneumonia, which will allow the patient to feel better while they get worse.

Headlines in the Hood River News, Wednesday, May 26: Horizon Christian School construction countdown: a Horizon teacher, Oscar Stenberg, receives teaching award; auction total stuns supporters ... event raises $197,000 for Columbia Center for the Arts. Hood River residents are apparently willing to support education and the arts. It is way past time for the public school system to look in the mirror and ask why the support for private endeavors isn’t being carried over to them.

To all of you who voted yes on the Local Option — why don’t you write a check to the Hood River County School District? You want them to have more money. Give it to them. I don’t think they are giving a good return on investment. I believe this is a “system” problem and not an individual teacher problem.

We have some exceptional students that would rise to the top in any school but an important function of the school system should be to raise the educational level of all students. Perhaps the current curriculum needs revision. Personally, I would like to see a voucher system. At least then parents could have some control over how our money is spent that educates their child.

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Michael F. Fifer lives in Hood River.

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